This is the fifth coaching search of Jeffrey Lurie’s 27-year Eagles ownership tenure, and so far it resembles the previous four in interesting, perhaps informative ways.
If you were thinking the Eagles would hire a coach a few days or even a week after dismissing Doug Pederson on Jan. 11, you don’t know your owner. Lurie has never done anything like that.
Lurie’s first coaching search started when he fired Rich Kotite the day after Christmas in 1994. It ended with the hiring of Ray Rhodes on Feb. 2, 1995, after the 49ers and defensive coordinator Rhodes had won Super Bowl XXIX.
The Inquirer noted that Rhodes’ hiring ended “the longest period without a head coach in Eagles history.”
It’s amazing how themes repeat. One of the big issues on Rhodes’ plate was the fate of quarterback Randall Cunningham. Rhodes’ first season would turn out to be Cunningham’s last with the Eagles. Now, candidates are being quizzed about fixing Carson Wentz.
Overall, Lurie’s coaching searches have lasted an average of 22.25 days, and with each, there has been at least one major twist.
Rhodes was fired on Dec. 28, 1998, after a 3-13 season. Andy Reid was hired two weeks later, on Jan. 11, 1999.
Reid, the longest-tenured head coach in franchise history, was dismissed after a 4-12 season in 2012, on New Year’s Eve. Chip Kelly was hired on Jan 16, 2013.
“I think it’s better to find the right leader than it is to make the fastest decision,” Lurie said in announcing Reid’s departure and the start of the team’s first coaching search of the 21st century.
When their top choice, Oregon coach Kelly, initially turned down the Eagles and the Browns, Kelly indicating he wanted to stay at Oregon, the Eagles then made their way through a complex process that was on the verge of concluding with Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley was sitting in Lurie’s Wynnewood mansion, the only candidate to get a second interview, when the Eagles found out Kelly had reconsidered. Pivot!
Kelly was fired with a game left on the 2015 schedule, on Dec. 29. One of the reasons given for the timing of his dismissal – it was the only time a Lurie-hired head coach hasn’t been allowed to finish a season – was that the Eagles wanted to get a head start on the hiring process.
That head start didn’t turn out to mean much. Pederson was hired on Jan. 18, 2016, after an exhaustive string of interviews with 11 known candidates, but to be fair, Pederson was in the playoffs as Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City and could not have been hired any sooner.
Pederson was sort of the Josh McDaniels of that coaching search – the Eagles’ strong interest was reported early, but they then seemed to be leaning this way (Adam Gase?) or that way (Ben McAdoo?) before finally getting back to Pederson.
This time, New England offensive coordinator McDaniels is not in the playoffs and is free to be hired anytime. The Eagles and the Texans have the only vacancies left. McDaniels has not been connected with the Houston job. So even though McDaniels was said to have interviewed very well Sunday, the Eagles probably feel there is no hurry, they can keep shopping.
The first time Lurie went coach-shopping, it looked as if he might wrap things up pretty quickly. The prime target was former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, who, at 58, had signaled he might be ready to return to the grind after a dozen years as a TV analyst.
Lurie spoke to Vermeil almost immediately after firing Kotite, but the Dec. 27, 1994 Inquirer noted that he “intended to do more research in the next two weeks and interview other candidates, including college head coaches.”
Kotite got another job, coaching the Jets, almost immediately. The late Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon wrote: “Meanwhile, Kotite’s former employer seemed to be occupied with having a meeting to have some more meetings.”
The Vermeil talks fell apart over the degree of control Vermeil would exert. Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh put the talks back together very briefly, telling the Daily News: “I think we’ve salvaged it.” But that patch didn’t hold.
After concluding he couldn’t reach a deal with Vermeil – the Eagles apparently asked for some sort of contract rebate should Vermeil experience a recurrence of the burnout that took him away the first time -- Lurie determined he would wait until 49ers assistants Rhodes and Mike Shanahan were free, which turned out to be after the Super Bowl. Lurie took a vacation during this time.
Four years later, after Rhodes went down in flames, Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was the presumed choice. Haslett had worked with then-Eagles general manager Tom Modrak in Pittsburgh, and Modrak definitely wanted him. But during Haslett’s interview with Lurie and then-team-president Joe Banner, Lurie and Banner felt patronized, a source with knowledge of the interview has said.
Haslett, the source said, basically told Lurie and Banner that he had heard they liked to meddle in football affairs, and that he wasn’t having any of that, they would have to butt out to get him to sign. Not only did Lurie and Banner not hire Haslett, they quickly surmised that Modrak was behind Haslett’s view of them, and after they got Reid in place and established, they parted ways with Modrak in 2001.
Another common thread through all these hires is that Lurie has never gone for a coach with previous NFL head-coaching experience, something that might be worth bearing in mind with McDaniels, who coached the Broncos in 2009 and for the first 12 games of 2010.
Like a lot of teams, the Eagles often look to what is hot at that moment. Rhodes, the only defensive head coach Lurie has hired, carried luster from the 49ers dynasty. Reid was hired at a point when the Packers had just appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls, winning the first one. Kelly’s hurry-up attack and his detailed approach to diet and fitness were cutting edge in 2013. Tampa Bay had tried to hire him a year earlier.
Pederson, who interviewed with no other teams, was a bit of a departure from that idea. At least temporarily, Kelly had made Lurie wary of pursuing “new and different.” More than once after Pederson was hired, observers opined that the Eagles were going from “outside the box to inside the box,” though those observers had no idea that Super Bowl LII and the Philly Special lay ahead.
Ultimately, though, Pederson’s lack of imagination and innovation as the team declined might have sealed his fate. People in the organization felt he would keep his job for 2021, at least, until he showed up at his postseason review with the idea to make Press Taylor offensive coordinator and either Matt Burke or Cory Undlin defensive coordinator.
The Eagles are again up to double-digits in coaching interviews. Though they are interviewing candidates with defensive backgrounds, it would be a surprise if they hired from that pool, given the Wentz situation. Lurie believes that the NFL is about offense. He also believes in compiling every bit of data he can acquire.
“This notion of an NFL team making a very important decision for itself and its fan base, and rushing to a decision, is unlike any in business, and I just don’t think that’s warranted,” Lurie said when he announced Pederson’s departure. “If we find a head coach soon or it’s early February, it’s totally great. If we’re the last team picking a head coach, that’s great, too, because then you have all the opportunity in the world.
“There’s no rush. There’s no pressure. There’s nothing that should drive you from a decision based on just rational thought and careful analysis and getting to know the person as best you can.”